In the second part of his adventure in the Peloponnese, Demetri Walters MW looks beyond Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero discovering the virtues of other autochthonous varieties such as Mavrodaphne, Mavro Kalavrytino, Roditis and Malagousia.
In my last instalment I wrote about my recent visit to Nemea and its environs. Whilst that commune dominates the north eastern Peloponnese, the rest of the northern and western Peloponnese don’t possess a pre-eminent name. So, what of these other wine producing areas? My abiding impressions are overall of small scale production and a multitude of really fascinating and largely obscure grape varieties. Furthermore, an inclination towards holistic/organic viticulture seems to be a growing and welcome trend. Each of these themes is set against an uncompromisingly rugged and elevated mountain landscape.
Not all the producers are artisanal in their scale. Our hosts for the second day’s tasting was Cavino, a producer of some 9 million bottles to the immediate east of Patras in Aegialia and owning vineyards across a raft of varied terroirs and altitudes. Nor are they solely concerned with large scale production. One of the wines that impressed me most that day was the red wine from their single vineyard estate in nearby Kalavryta, Mega Spileo. We spied this very place on our way to the tasting and it is indeed strikingly picturesque, perched at 900m and enjoying a spectacular view of the mountains on one side and the nearby gulf of Corinth on the other (pictured above). The two celebrated black grapes of the wider Patras/Kalavryta region, Mavrodaphne and Mavro Kalavrytino, come together to form a very compelling blend here. 32 months in 1st and 2nd fill 225 litre barrels, plus a further 3 years in bottle leaves a mouth filling wine with finely-grained tannins and a juicy palate of Italianate black cherry.
Here Mavrodaphne, on its own or with a little Corinthiaki, is often fashioned into the fortified wine, Mavrodaphne of Patras. Happily, quality is improving here and this famous wine style is now deserving of its laurels. Mavrodaphne also produces a fairly chewy but delicately fragrant dry red wine, as presented by Rouvalis and Sant’Or. Varietal Mavro Kalavrytino is also raising its sights. This thin-skinned, pale, and slow-maturing grape easily succumbs to botrytis, though in the hands of Panagiotis Papagianopoulos of Tetramythos, it provides an alluring weave of complexity and delicate black-fruited fragrance. In short it was exhilarating to taste the sheer variety of wines on offer.
The white grapes of this calcareous, schistolithic and volcanic elevation betwixt mountains and sea play a vital role in the wines of Kalavryta and Patras. Roditis is, as in the eastern Peloponnese, a big fish here. The marked variation between day and night time temperatures affords this impressively versatile grape a graceful development, whilst the combination of sea and mountain breezes keep the worst of rot and viticultural hazards at bay. Tetramythos, Rouvalis and Sant’Or are testament to this. Refreshing Assyrtiko and pungently attractive Malagousia are also present in this northern part of the Peloponnese, with good examples presented by Kintonis and Rira. Our fragrant friend from Mantinia, Moschofilero, and the local but much less well known and delicately aromatic Lagorthi also showed well. These grapes often come together in one form or another in blends, with perhaps the best of both worlds represented by Assyrtiko and Malagousia. International varieties such as Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer also take their place in blends as well as impressive varietal wines.
We also tasted wines from Olympia, further to the south west. Here again Assyrtiko, Roditis and Malagousia produced structure, character and refreshment, whilst the delightful grapiness and lemon sherbet notes of Muscat also appeared. Interestingly another unusual local white grape, Avgoustiatis, made an appearance. Local reds also have a part to play, with Fokiano, Mavroudi, Verzami and Agiorgitiko each adding to the native weave.
As well as the autochthonous varieties of the northern and western Peloponnese, it has been the rehabilitation of Retsina that has really struck me. Though the style is as old as the hills, modern day retsinas can be attractively fresh white wines, but with a herb and pine imperative. This type of expression showed real poise when made by Tetramythos. Further experimentation betwixt the old and the new is taken one stage further with a small proliferation of orange/skin contact wines. In this regard Santameriana by Sant’Or showed attractive orange peel and bergamot. Though in its infancy, the movement is very much in vogue across the globe presently and I look forward to witnessing any means by which Greek wine producers introduce their astonishingly characterful native varieties to consumers.